Sweat is a central conundrum of summer: One spends the day trying to avoid it and the night actively searching it out. The Berliner Ellen Allien is the sound of that nighttime mission accomplished. Allien has built a sizable cult following—Radiohead's Thom Yorke, for one, pledges allegiance—by making glitchy, details-oriented techno suitable for both study and play. Allien's latest album forfeits the cheery day and stays out till dawn contemplating the nurturing powers of bass. The sinister lurch and rat-a-tat high-hats of "Your Body Is My Body" slowly evolve into something sweet and melodic, while the opening pings of "Naked Rain" delightfully Doppler back and forth before giving way to Kraftwerk-styled synths. The bobbing bass line of "Ghost Train" offers a moment of reprieve, only to be snatched away by the tinny, transcendent stomp of "Cloudy City." You're not getting out of this one dry.
Amerie"1 Thing" (Sony, 2005) Click here to listen to "1 Thing."
One of the definitive singles of 2005 never would have happened had it not been for some creative bootlegging. When Amerie's label balked at the ready-for-liftoff cacophony of "1 Thing," she and producer Rich Harrison leaked it on the Internet and to DJs. "1 Thing" sounds like too many ideas at once. It spills open with off-balance, mid-solo go-go drums and strident guitar stabs—a junkyard din that the workmanlike Amerie sings against. Thanks to this odd pairing, the single became a social epidemic. And, thanks to this success, Amerie is at the center of more "gray"-market activity. Like Missy and Jay-Z before her, her vocals have become the weapon of choice for remixers. The best? A guy named Siik, who brilliantly misreads the script and blends Amerie's bright, upstream swim with a wistful beat from Japan's Nujabes. (Hint: Google.)
Who are you kidding—that heat is dreadful. Leslie Feist's lovely debut album was made for moping about, admiring a quiet summer day from behind a window. (This is saying a lot, considering she once toured under the name Bitch Lap-Lap and rapped—in bad Spanish, no less—with a sock puppet.) The Canadian singer's latest is a charming, stripped-down collection of strums, hisses, and sambas that both celebrates and dreads the act of losing oneself to love. The gorgeous "Gatekeeper" looks forward to the possibilities of summertime—of "making lover and making their dinner"—but fears the onset of winter, while her gently thumping cover of the Bee Gees' "Inside and Out" captures the original's mingling of ecstasy and insanity. At the center of each song is Feist, whose voice is wispy enough to be drowned out by the sound of air conditioning.
Memphis Bleek featuring Jay-Z"Dear Summer" (Roc-A-Fella, 2005) Click here to listen to "Dear Summer."
Few artists understand the synergistic possibilities of summer like Jay-Z. In the Logan's Run-like world of hip-hop, the veteran rapper boasts a startling string of summer anthems dating back to the Clinton years—that's about 100 in human years. Taking yet another break from "retirement," Jay's ode to his own hit-making abilities appears on the latest disc of his perennial protégé Memphis Bleek. (Oddly, Bleek does not appear on the song.) "Dear Summer, I know you gon' miss me/ For we been together like Nike Airs and crisp tees," Jay reminisces over a loping, gently wafting beat by Just Blaze. Though nobody believes he will stay retired, he explains that his new life isn't too bad—"I got a brand new bitch: corporate America/ She showin' me a lot of action right now," he smirks, adding another notch to his belt.
Oxford Collapse"Last American Virgin" (Kanine, 2005) Click here to listen to "Last American Virgin."
This fantastic bit of ramshackle pop from Brooklyn's Oxford Collapse evokes a perfect summer setting (the liminal space of the garage) to discuss a perfect summer subject (virginity). Known for their raucous live shows, the trio's second album, A Good Ground, whittles their perpetually amateur-sounding approach down to a fierce chug. The standout track, "Last American Virgin," opens with plodding jangles and glacial drumming before the trio kicks into a group sputter that threatens to come undone at any moment. The fray is powered by the sound of three musicians going solo at the same time: Mike Pace splays over the top with his dehydrated yawps and string-snapping strums; Adam Rizer's bass jogs up and down the sonic pile like a dozen New Order songs played at the wrong speed; and Dan Fetherston steadies it all with his locomotive drumming before showing off with the cowbell.